Prisoner on the lam for 47 years arrested

Sunday, September 30, 2001

HARDWICK, Ga. -- When J.C. Fuller complained to a guard that he saw poisonous cottonmouth snakes in a stream where his convict road gang had been ordered to work, the guard shrugged and told him "There's the road ..."

"I hit the road the next morning," said Fuller.

The escaped convict enjoyed freedom for the next 47 years, the longest any Georgia inmate has been on the lam.

Authorities tracked him down last year in Miami, where he had been living under his real name, working construction and "staying out of trouble."

"The good Lord just blessed me to stay out," said the 76-year-old Fuller, who now has a month left to serve on his original four-year sentence for attempted murder. "I worked, I went to church and I went fishing. I had to be doing all right to stay out that long."

Fuller, who was given no additional prison time for his escape, said he was never concerned about getting caught.

"I voted for President Carter and President Clinton. I worked. I had a little money, clothes and a place to stay. I didn't have anything to worry about," he said.

Prison for elderly

He never married. "In my younger days, I didn't want a wife," he said. "Now I'm too old for a wife. I think I do better by myself."

The Georgia Department of Corrections' fugitive squad tracked Fuller down during a review of old case files early last year.

Fuller is serving out his sentence at the Hardwick Men's Prison, home to 650 elderly men, in a large brick building surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with coils of silvery razor wire.

Fuller said he missed the pork chops, fish and rice and beans he used to eat in Miami.

"Around here you get beans, but they're pinto beans," he said with a smile.

Fuller said his original legal problems began one Sunday morning when he rejected his girlfriend's invitation to go to church and instead went out drinking. Later, when his girlfriend became enraged because she saw him talking to a female acquaintance, they fought and his shotgun went off.

"The shotgun went off, in a way, by me drinking," he said. "If I hadn't been drinking it wouldn't have happened."

In 1952, when he was 29, Fuller was sentenced to four years in prison, and was sent to the Thomas County Public Works Camp in Thomasville.

He wound up on a detail that was building a bridge in nearby Grady County. He said he and other inmates had to wade into a stream with saws to trim the tops of pilings that had been driven into the stream bed.

Scared of snakes

"I'm scared of snakes and those big cottonmouths were swimming around me," he said. "That's the whole thing that caused me to walk away. Back in that time, there were no fences, just a guard in a tower."

Now that he's close to his release, Fuller hopes to return to his childhood home in Wilcox County, about 40 miles southeast of Macon, where he grew up picking cotton and thrashing peanuts on his grandmother's farm.

"My biggest job was to get stove wood for my grandma," he said.

Fuller said the family still owns the farm and he may decide to spend his remaining years there.

"I think I'll buy a trailer and go fishing," he said.

Wherever he goes, he plans to avoid snakes.

"I don't like snakes and they don't like me," he said. "That's the whole thing that caused me to walk away."

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